Spread from Das Erlebnis der Reichsautobahn (1943) from Martin Parr and Jerry Badger's Photobook series
Spread from Das Erlebnis der Reichsautobahn (1943) from Martin Parr and Jerry Badger's Photobook series

Martin Parr rewrites photobook history

The photographer tells the Financial Times why he would like to bequeath his incredible collection to the Tate

Martin Parr is both a photographer and a collector, yet some of the stuff he amasses isn't likely to appeal to your average antique dealer. In an article published in the Financial Times, Parr discusses his odder possessions, including watches featuring the face of Bashar al-Assad, and Soviet-era cigarette cases decorated with the images of the USSR's cosmonaut dogs. "Laika, Strelka and Belka, they're the three most famous," he tells the paper.

However, it is Parr's collection of photobooks that truly interested the FT's Liz Jobey. He began collecting these in the 1970s, when the wider interest in such books was negligible. He's seen interest grow over the past few decades, and yet he believes there are still some areas of the world with a hidden photographic history stored up in its discarded, underappreciated books. China and Italy in particular interest him; "I've just come back from a trip and I've got many books from the Italian fascist period."

 

Spread from Bernd and Hill Becher's Anonyme Skulpturen (1970) from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series
Spread from Bernd and Hill Becher's Anonyme Skulpturen (1970) from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series

More generally, he believes that photobooks are an unduly overlooked aspect of photographic history. "The main thing I've learnt," he says, "is how lazy and narrow-minded our histories of photography have been, and how, with some investment and some application, there is so much to discover."

 

Spread from Stephen Gill's Hackney Wick (2005)  from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series
Spread from Stephen Gill's Hackney Wick (2005) from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series

Though he's unwilling to put a figure on the value of his collection, he says his personal library is "the greatest photobook collection in the world." However, rather than selling it on the open market, Parr would like to give it to give it to the Tate, "to be looked after and be used as a research tool," he explains. "That's the whole point really. There is no particularly good photographic book collection in the public domain in the UK."

 

Spread from Carroll Tankersley's book, Greyhound 1963, from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series
Spread from Carroll Tankersley's book, Greyhound 1963, from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger's Photobook series

A tantalizing prospect for any public institution, surely? Read the full piece here and, in lieu of his collection making it into public hands, you can pick up a copy of the third volume of Parr's photobook history, which the photographer has put together with fellow author Gerry Badger. This great new book is out today. Buy it here.